Skip to: Menu | Content | Footer

10 Coastal Colleges With the Coolest Aquatic Offerings

Posted on Sunday October 28, 2012 by Staff Writers


It’s really not fair that the coasts get some of the country’s best restaurants, latest fashion trends and hottest retailers, and most enjoyable weather. And if that weren’t enough, their colleges also boast some of the coolest water-related programs and activities anywhere in the States. While it’s true many schools in landlocked areas have solid swim centers and aquatics programs, there’s just something about studying or playing near the ocean that can’t be matched. Here are 10 schools with the best H20-related offerings.

  1. University of California, San Diego and San Diego State:

    As these two schools share the Mission Bay Aquatic Center — “the world’s largest instructional waterfront facility” — they share a spot on our rankings. How’s this for cool? Tritons and Aztecs can take surfing, windsurfing, wakeboarding, waterskiing, stand-up paddleboarding, sailing, kayaking, and Olympic rowing for college credit. And with the 24,000-square foot, redwood-constructed Center as training grounds, the picturesque San Juan Cove in the front yard, and the wide expanses of the Pacific Ocean just across the street, they can do all that in style. Think those classes don’t fill up fast?

  2. College of the Atlantic:

    Zoom out too far on Google Maps and you’ll think this college is actually in the Atlantic Ocean. As the only major offered here is human ecology, you know they’re interested in promoting the outdoors, and aquatics are no exception. Freshmen kick off their time here with the Outdoor Orientation Program , where they’ll sail the Atlantic, kayak in the sea, go deep-sea diving, or take some other incredible trip. When the first day of school arrives everyone jumps into Frenchman Bay to swim the quarter-mile to Bar Island for hot chocolate and hot food. When they’re not interested in getting (too) wet, the school makes sail, row, and motor boats available, plus ocean kayaks and lake canoes with all the paddles, life jackets, dry bags, and other gear students need to hit the water.

  3. University of North Carolina Wilmington:

    For years, this East Coast school has been able to say it operates the world’s only underwater research station. The Aquarius undersea lab has been the base of operations for more than 100 missions since 1993, allowing scientists to study climate change, marine biologists to monitor ocean life, and even astronauts to mimic living inside the space station for days at a time. UNCW instructors have had the benefit of being on the cusp of breakthrough ocean research simply by the school’s close proximity to the lab, and unfortunately it’s now up to people like them to save it from shutdown in the wake of federal budget cuts.

  4. University of Washington:

    Seattle is pretty much the last collegiate stop on the West Coast’s I-5. Here at UDub you’ll find one of the coolest college football game day tailgates anywhere. Dubbed “sailgating” or “boatgating,” Washington fans bring their boats into Lake Washington’s Husky Harbor just a stone’s throw from Husky Stadium to have the pre-game fun many schools restrict to parking lots. It’s been called one of the best tailgating traditions in college football. The school also scores in the nerdy-cool department through its leadership role in the development of the country’s first cabled ocean observatory, known as Regional Scale Nodes. The National Science Foundation project will enable research into underwater volcanoes, ocean currents, and more.

  5. College of Charleston:

    Students at this medium-sized school in the historic town of Charleston enjoy the year-round sunshine at their campus on the edge of the Atlantic, which makes for pleasant sea and lake kayaking. Recently the school announced the “first on the east coast” for-credit stand-up paddleboarding class, one of the trendiest new aquatic sports since kitesurfing. Currently the class is held twice in the summer at nearby Sullivan’s Island. Students have already gotten onboard as a way of getting a tough workout while enjoying some beautiful coastal scenery.

  6. Florida Southern College:

    With the Gulf of Mexico to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, FSC could not be more coastal. But ironically, most students spend their aqua-time on the campus-adjacent Lake Hollingsworth, kayaking, sailing, or water-skiing. In fact, Florida Southern is one of a handful of American colleges that offers a waterskiing athletic scholarship, an attraction that draws some of the finest young skiers in the world. The campus also happens to be home to the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world, like the uber-aquatic, recently restored, 45-foot high Water Dome.

  7. North Carolina State University:

    OK, technically Raleigh is listed as a town in the Piedmont Region of North Carolina. But as people in Nebraska would probably agree, it’s pretty darn close to the coast. And for 60 years, NC State has been offering one of the coolest career development courses we’ve ever heard of. The annual Sport Fishing School is designed to give aspiring anglers a glimpse of life as a professional sport fisherman. Each spring students who sign up get two days of classroom instruction on equipment, baits, and techniques (capped off with a fish fry), mixed with two full days of guided trips into the waters of the Gulf Stream for marlin, dolphin, and tuna. There’s even a closing banquet to finish a great week on a high note.

  8. Duke University:

    Since we’re including Raleigh, we’ll go ahead and throw Durham into the mix as well, because owning a research lab is only marginally cool, but having your own research lab on your own island is way cool. The Duke University Marine Lab on Pivers Island near Beaufort, N.C. provides budding marine biologists with a home for studying nearby barrier islands, reefs, beaches, dunes, swamps, and bogs, with all their crabs, snails, shrimps, clams, jellyfish, herons, sea turtles, and dolphins. And when it’s quitting time, beach volleyball, surfing, sailing, swimming, and even horseback riding are all down-time options.

  9. Humboldt State University:

    For four decades, California’s Humboldt State has been transforming mild-mannered science majors into seafaring explorers with its own research vessel. Each year the R.V. Coral Sea carries hundreds of students and teachers into the Pacific Ocean to study geology, chemistry, and of course, marine biology. The ship houses two research labs and has a capacity of 44 people, with a full galley and 10 bunks. In 2006 the vessel was outfitted with new, greener engines that are expected to keep students seagoing at least another 20 years.

  10. University of New Hampshire:

    Together with Cornell, UNH sets up shop for marine biology at the Shoals Marine Laboratory on Appledore Island, six miles out into the gulf. Students from all over the country can take 20-plus hands-on summer school courses there on everything from ecology to law. The school also claims the Jackson Estuarine Laboratory on Great Bay, home of an international seagrass monitoring program (seagrass!) and most of the UNH boat fleet, and the Jere A. Chase Ocean Engineering Lab, with its cutting-edge water research tech. Like Humboldt, UNH owns not one but two research vessels — the R/V Gulf Challenger and the R/V Coastal Surveyor — plus several smaller boats and barges.